Last month, the finalists for the 2019 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults were announced. After reading through the longlist, we were not at all surprised to hear that whittling down a shortlist proved difficult.
“The quality of submissions was impressive this year,” says convenor of judges Crissi Blair. “We had serious problems selecting the finalists for each category and it was heartening to see a healthy number of submissions from mainstream, indie and self-publishers, all of which are represented in the shortlist.” A core aspect of the NZCYA Awards’ mission is to foster literacy and a love of reading among New Zealand’s children and teenagers.
With this in mind, we've asked the authors on the shortlist to share with us their favourite New Zealand children's book. To be more precise, we asked:
What New Zealand children's book changed you growing up?
Today, we're featuring the finalists for the Best First Book Award. Competition was fierce to make this shortlist, with the judges finding nothing amateur about these debuts, which they say are indistinguishable in quality from books by more experienced writers. All of the finalists for this award have used their writing to cut deep to the heart of what being a young person is all about.
Art-tastic, Sarah Pepperle (Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū)
“The New Zealand children's book that changed me was The O Trilogy by Maurice Gee because I was a kid who still wanted to believe in magic, and in these pages I realised that entire other lives can be lived through books – knowledge that kept me close company through the jungle of my teenage years.”
Bullseye Bella, James T Guthrie (Scholastic NZ)
"The New Zealand book that changed me was Maurice Gee's Under the Mountain because it made me aware of the fact that mere words on a page could elicit a genuine emotional response from the reader."
Children of the Furnace, Brin Murray (The CopyPress)
"If I’d grown up here, I know exactly which books I would have loved. I’ve always adored picture books, and two NZ books are absolute favourites. One is Down The Back Of The Chair by Margaret Mahy. It’s a world-class classic: immensely clever in a deeply understated way, the language sparkles with a kind of effervescent, effortless vitality. The other is Greedy Cat’s Door by Joy Cowley. The entire Greedy Cat series is brilliant: the humour is pitched just right, the Robyn Belton illustrations are wicked, and I can say with absolute honesty, kids find them endlessly engaging. I must have read Greedy Cat’s Door with five year olds well upwards of twenty times (they lend themselves to revisiting, a lot), and it’s still laugh-out loud funny every time. Greedy Cat’s expressions are simply hilarious – to kids and adults (this adult) alike."
The Stolen Stars of Matariki, Miriama Kamo, illustrated by Zak Waipara (Scholastic NZ)
"The NZ children's book that changed me was Pounamu Pounamu by Witi Ihimaera, because it marked the transition between my reading as a child to a young adult. It spoke to my own experiences as a Māori child in a wide, yet tight, whanau - and celebrated those things in print. As a voracious reader I’d never encountered that before, so it was revolutionary, telling me that our worldview was valued and valuable.’’
Also nominated for the Best First Book Award is Slice of Heaven, by Des O'Leary (Mākaro Press)